Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hopeful About 2009

Despite the doom and gloom of the times, I am hopeful about 2009.

Akili gave me the Woodstock Concert album on a CD for Christmas, so now I can listen to it in my car, the only place where I really listen to music of my own choosing. Life with a DJ has its pros and cons. I was listening to Woodstock today while running out to the store for more bagels and orange juice (my children are like a plague of locusts in a cornfield when presented with a bag of bagels). I heard the little speech about providing breakfast in bed for 400,000 and the announcer told the crowd they were all going to be feeding each other. “We must be in heaven,” the announcer shouted with glee, and then, “There’s always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area.” Somehow that struck me as a good quote for the times.

I am scared about our family’s financial situation, which remains steady but only by a thread. I am scared about the future for my children, trying to find work and start out in life during this recession and dreadful job market. I am scared for the people in Zimbabwe and Rwanda and Darfur and other war-torn countries, where people are sleeping on the ground and surviving one day to the next. I can find a million things to be scared about. And I think about my friend Carol, now in her 70s, who beat breast cancer this year. Carol says she refuses to fear. She has had a life touched by tragedy, but she has not allowed this to prevent her from creating a positive future, enjoying what she can from life, and making a difference in the world. My friend Phyllee has a similar positive attitude. After losing her husband five years ago when he dropped dead of a heart attack (with no forewarning), she has picked herself up and taken life by the horns, demanding joy wherever she can find it. She went on a Caribbean cruise for the holidays. I am inspired by Phyllee and Carol. I struggle to stay positive. To expect the best. To expect good things coming.

The end of the year is the time for lists and I think about what is on mine. Obama will bring real change. I will come to feel at home in my new house. I will manage to put my boys through college. My diabetic husband and my aging father will both stay well. We will not lose our house. I will continue to get enough work to pay the bills. My children will find good jobs and terrific life partners. My cats will come home at night in one piece. Family and friends will thrive. The people of Zimbabwe will turn a corner and enter a new day. Peace in the middle east. Hope. Change is gonna come. I make my wish lists—trying to manifest the goodness. I am determined to remain hopeful about 2009. Obama helps.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tough Year for Gay Rights

I am looking forward to our traditional New Year’s Eve jaunt to the co-housing community in Cotati to party hearty with our friends Eris and Leslie and the other co-housing families. Eris and Leslie, lesbians, have been partners for a dozen years or more and this blog is in honor of them because it has been a tough year for gays. They were stripped of their civil rights in the last election and have felt deeply betrayed.

Last summer, when the state legislature ruled to allow gays to marry, Eris and Leslie went to city hall immediately and filed for their marriage license. They got married many years ago in a non-legal ceremony. Eris told me she had not realized how important it was to her to be legitimately recognized as Leslie’s wife until they actually held the paper in their hands. She still tears up talking about it. She never thought she’d be granted this right in her lifetime. She wrote a letter to the California Legislature thanking them for allowing her to marry the woman she loves. So you can imagine the grief, anger, and frustration she felt only months later when the rug was pulled out from under her. They are still waiting to find out if their marriage has been voided. Apparently Ken Starr (yes, THAT Ken Starr) is going to bat for the religious fanatics and attempting to have all previous gay marriages in California nullified in court.

The decision to pass Prop. 8 was engineered by Christian religious fanatics from outside the state. It is well-known that the Mormon Church poured millions of dollars into the Yes on Prop. 8 Campaign by urging Mormons to donate for advertising. Churches in Idaho and the deep South also talked church members into contributing thousands to this negative campaign. The advertising that was bought with their money terrified conservative voters by falsely asserting that their churches would lose their nonprofit status if they refused to marry gay couples and by falsely stating that the public schools would be required to teach children as young as five about sex education in a way that described gay sex in detail (what idiocy). This type of scare tactic is outrageous. And it continues to play on the deep-seated prejudicial stereotype that gays are sexual predators who will corrupt, endanger, and prey on children. I sadly remember a friend of mine, a gay man, who, in the 1970s taught preschool. He had long blonde hair, which he crammed up into a wig to go to work. He was wonderful with the children and had found his niche and his career. He lived in terror that he would be exposed as a gay and that this would prevent him from teaching for the rest of his life. The Yes on Prop. 8 campaign points out that we are barely a whisper away from those days.

The saddest thing about oppression is that it interferes with the ability of people to love one another, on every level. We talk big talk about many freedoms, but perhaps the most basic is the freedom to love. Slavery exploded Black families. Colonization disintegrated Native families. Nazism reduced Jewish families to ashes. Homophobia attempts to destroy gay families. It goes on and on. When will we finally have a society that allows love to flourish? That supports and nurtures families? That recognizes the many shapes and forms and sizes and colors and wondrous diversity of love?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Furnace Blues

The week before Thanksgiving the heat exchanger on our furnace cracked. For ten days we suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning, with sinus problems, burning eyes, cough, sore throat, etc. before realizing that the source of the problem was the heating system. Even the cats were sneezing. Right after Thanksgiving, we turned the heat off for good and called the heating repair people, AC&R. When the service rep came out he discovered the crack and shut the system down. He was required by law to condemn it as unsafe. I was unruffled as we have an excellent home warranty policy that covers the heating system.

But there’s a process. AC&R had to send out someone else to look at the system and write up an estimate for the cost of repair. He informed us that the old furnace was a piece of crap and he could not in good conscience recommend that we replace it with the comparable new piece of crap. He recommended a much more efficient system. He also discovered that the ducts are leaking and need to be resealed. No wonder our heating system didn’t seem to be heating the house. The AC&R rep wrote up his report and sent it to the insurance company, who called and offered us our options. We chose the buy out so we could install a more efficient system. All this took what, one, two weeks, actually more, since it is now already mid-December. In the meantime we are freezing our asses off. I actually had the gas fire insert in the living room removed (cheap, only $100 to take it out) so we could restore the fireplace to wood burning. Ron has made some lovely little fires in the fireplace this week to take the edge off the cold. The fireplace is small and doesn’t warm the living room sufficiently, but it’s definitely an improvement. There is a good gas burning fireplace in the family room and we have that one going nonstop. But let me tell you, the bedrooms are freezers.

On Friday I was able to get a date from AC&R to replace the furnace this coming Wednesday. To complicate matters, we are still working on our deck; and the basement, which houses the furnace, is down the back stairs, which up until yesterday were not there. Ron spent the whole day yesterday putting treads on the back stairs so AC&R can get the old furnace out and the new furnace in. We have laid plywood over the deck framing temporarily for the guys to walk on. Of course the furnace died right in the middle of this deck project. Furthermore, a snowstorm is coming in tonight, to last several days. Do you know how often snow is predicted in Ukiah? Like every ten years. The rain has started this morning and it has been about 30 degrees every night for the last week. Wouldn’t you know it that the coldest snap in ten years is now, when we have no heat. When I get out of bed at night to go to the bathroom my feet turn to ice and fall off. I hope my fish doesn’t freeze in his bowl. I can see my breath as I write this. Wednesday, if I can only make it to Wednesday.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Missing Ella

Five days ago my cat Ella went missing. She is my favorite of all the cats I have ever had, and that’s saying a lot since she and her sister Golda were cats 12 and 13 when I brought them home three years ago. I picked up these girls at the pound in the fall following the summer that Mom passed over and all three of our outdoor cats were picked off one by one by a marauding bobcat at the Ranch. Ella and Golda are very indoor cats. They go out during the day usually, but always come in at night. Sometimes they don’t even go out in the daytime, but sleep all day long and play with their catnip toys for diversion.

Ella is a small child living in a cat body. She is too smart for her own good. Too curious for her own good. Too crafty, sneaky, scheming, perceptive, and detail-oriented. If she were a person, she would be an expert at office politics. But she is not a person. She is a small all-black domestic shorthair with a tiny face and enormous green eyes. She is the fluffiest, softest cat I have ever touched. She is a puffy cat, little more than a wisp of mischief.

Ella has many idiosyncrasies. For instance, she loves the smell of Ron’s feet. She squishes her little head deep into his bedroom slippers and chews on the lining. Then she pulls the lining inside out and rubs her face in it. Ron has to hide his slippers from her. It drives him crazy when she pulls apart those slippers. They were expensive and he depends on them to keep his feet protected when in the house. A diabetic, Ron must take special care of his feet. He can’t afford to have my adorable puffy cat tearing up and sucking on his slippers. Sometimes I think she knows exactly how to get under his skin and does it on purpose.

When we moved from the Ranch to the Villa, I kept Ella and her sister inside for a week to make sure they were acclimated and knew where they lived. The first night in the Villa, Ron assembled our bed. When he needed help keeping all the rails and boards in place for him to screw them in, he called on me and the boys. As I held a rail in position with both hands, Ella appeared and proceeded to nip my ankles for attention. I tried to shake her off, but she would not be deterred. I could not stop laughing and nearly dropped the bed rail. Ron was not amused.

I have been worried about the kitty girls in our new home. There are many cats in the neighborhood. My kitty girls had 40 acres to themselves at the Ranch. Cats don’t always make the transition to a new environment. Although we have been here for a few months, I know that they are still figuring out how to live next door to other cats and how to navigate the street, which is very quiet fortunately. I was worried the first night Ella didn’t come home. The second night, I figured she had gotten stuck somewhere, in someone’s garage or shed, and would come home soon. By the third night, I was alarmed and sad and started to wonder if I would ever see her again. On the fourth night, I couldn’t sleep and imagined her lying dead or wounded somewhere out of my reach. Sudi said, “Don’t worry Mom, cats wander, she’ll come home."

Yesterday morning she appeared at the door first thing in the morning! Unharmed, smelling a bit like fir trees, and hungry. Sudi said “I told you so.” After she ate, I held her and petted her for a long time. I’m sure she knows how much I missed her. But Ella will do as she wishes anyway, probably disappearing again in our new neighborhood. I hope she always returns. Her return reminded me that sometimes something we think is lost for good comes back to us.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Home Improvements

OK, I give. I can’t wait to be done with the home improvements. When we bought the house in May, we had a list of repairs and renovations that needed to get done. The two biggest jobs were the roof and the deck. If you read my blog over the summer (and into the fall) you hear all about the roof saga. Now we are in the midst of the deck repair. We planned to save money by doing it ourselves, but Ron is not as young as he used to be (surprise), I don’t have the biceps I had as a stage carpenter, and Sudi is in school (has limited time) and has no carpentry experience. Replacing a 1300 square foot deck is quite a project. So we hired a wonderful contracting firm to do some of the work and provide consultation. You would think that you wouldn’t need a permit to replace an existing structure with a structure of the same size, but bureaucracy rules. Ron had to submit the drawings and apply for a permit from the county (which we got).

Our contractor sent a couple of young men with good backs and knees to take out the old deck, which they accomplished in less than a day and a half. Ron, Sudi, and I put the bad wood into a dumpster (with the help of our friend Calvin) and then Sudi and I removed the nails and screws from the old Redwood decking. Then we hired the contractor to have his young men treat the Redwood with an icky smelling chemical to prevent fungus and they reused that good wood in the framing for the new deck. We paid them to frame it in, including the stairs. Next Ron, Sudi, and I will lay the new decking on the frame and then Ron will build the railings.

After we had the house inspected and before we bought it, we got estimates on having a contractor do all the work to replace the deck. (Not the contractor we wound up hiring, but a couple of other ones.) Based on the estimates we saw at that time, we will probably manage to replace the deck for half the price of having a contractor do the whole thing. The contractor we did hire to help us out is wonderful (we have made a new friend). He and his crew did a great job. I am not looking forward to having them leave and finishing up on our own, but can’t afford to pay them to do much more than they have already done.

Last week afforded me a moment of amusement in the midst of the sawdust and chaos. Ron came home from work on Tuesday and sat down in front of the TV to relax. Meanwhile, the contractor’s crew was out in back working on the framing. I came in from the grocery store to find a full crew of four guys out back building our deck while my darling husband watched reruns of Tim Allen’s Home Improvements on the TV. Isn’t there something wrong with that picture?

Stay tuned, new deck soon to come. Watch this space.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Blessings

A few years ago, I attended a reunion with six of my high school girlfriends (all raised in Schenectady) at a condo rental on the beach in New Jersey. Suzanne and Kate came from the D.C. area, I came from California, Cathy came from New Mexico, Amy from Cincinnati, Laurel from Florida, and Barbara from upstate New York. The idea for the gathering emerged when Suzanne emailed the other six of us on the day of her 50th birthday. A buzz of emails ensued and before we knew it, we had agreed to have a reunion at the Jersey Shore the following summer. I had seen Cathy only a few years before, but I had not seen Laurel in more than 30 years. Similarly, some of the other women had stayed in touch more closely and others had not.
On the Saturday night of our weekend together, we cooked and ate a fancy dinner in our condo. Ron and I have a tradition in that when we sit down to a special meal with friends and/or family, we join hands around the table before we eat and each person has an opportunity to say grace, give a blessing, or share a few words with those assembled. I insisted that my girlfriends join hands and share words. Many lovely, moving, humorous, insightful, and astute words were spoken at that gathering. We cried and laughed and, because we were a group of 50-year-old women, quite a few of us had hot flashes while saying those astute words.
My words at the table went something like this:
I am thinking this evening of the many places in the world where this gathering would not be possible, where seven women who grew up together would not be alive and in good health at the age of 50. We live in a place and time filled with blessings and good fortune. Our life partners and our children are alive and in good health; and our brothers, sons, and husbands have not been killed in battle, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, or harmed for their beliefs. None of us has been raped or tortured. Our daughters are in college or will one day have the opportunity to attend college. We have each succeeded in our chosen professions and have made a contribution with our daily work. We have the freedom to leave our families behind for a weekend and spend it in each other’s company. We have an abundance of food, we come from secure homes, and we have kept our children close to us, raised them with love, and seen them flourish. There are many places in the world where this is not possible, where women only dream of the lives we lead, and where a weekend gathering such as this would never occur. For this reason, I am deeply grateful for the miracle of this evening’s meal in your company.
In these difficult and uncertain times, I give thanks for the beautiful home I have, the health of my family, the abundance that I have received, and the love that flows to me from the many extraordinary people who have come into my life and shared the wealth of their personal gifts. May we live to give thanks for all these blessings on many other occasions. Good thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Breaking Bread in My Mother's House

I recently wrote an essay about Mom opening her home and her heart to all our foreign students. I want to share an abridged version with you here on the blog as this week’s column.

My mother prospered in her life and she believed in sharing the wealth. There was always room at her table for another chair. Educated as a social worker, she was an expert listener and had a hunger for knowledge about what made people tick. Her fascination with people prompted her to sign on as a placement coordinator for the Exchange in International Living. That is how I became the “little sister” to a Taiwanese brother, a Palestinian brother, and a Turkish brother, and shared my dinner table with countless other foreign students from around the world while I was growing up.

Mom placed foreign exchange students in host homes for one month before the students went off to an American college. The host home placement was meant to assist the student in adjusting to American culture. One of the greatest challenges, of course, was providing some of the more exotic students with familiar food. It should come as no surprise that one thing that particularly contributed to homesickness for these students was the strange food in America. They yearned for their mother’s and their grandmother’s cooking.

One of Mom’s greatest successes was an African student who could not find anything to eat in America that even vaguely resembled the food he knew from home. (This was back in the 1960s, when international cuisine was not as prolific as it is today.) He was a picky eater to begin with and he was utterly miserable until Mom did some research and instructed his host home mother to feed the young man steamed spinach and peanut butter. He loved it.

When my Taiwanese brother first arrived stateside, he was an adventurous eater. Unlike the African who wanted familiar food, my Taiwanese brother was game to try whatever Mom cooked. Unfortunately, he was so polite, that he refrained from telling her if he didn’t like something. He just ate it and declined the next time. If you knew how polite he was, you would understand the enormity of his response when Mom attempted to feed him cottage cheese. He took one taste and set his fork down, gagging. Mom apologized, so did he, both of them embarrassed. He blurted out, “That stuff tastes like glue.”

My Palestinian brother was the youngest of seven children from a Christian Arab family in Beirut. His older sister lived in our home town, taught English at the high school, and spent two years laying the groundwork to get her little brother out of Beirut before he was conscripted into the army. Only weeks before his arrival, his sister was deported to Canada. Before her hasty departure, my parents arranged to host her brother upon his arrival. He lived with us for over a year, then went to college nearby, and finally emigrated to Canada to be near his sister. While he stayed with us, Mom learned how to cook an assortment of Lebanese dishes. She discovered an import store in a nearby town and took my Palestinian brother there to seek out foods familiar to him from his home. Thus, she had a good source for imported food when she took in my Turkish brother. My Turkish brother lived with us for only a month; however, he returned to us for part of the summer and during most of his college vacations while completing his master’s degree because he couldn’t afford the airfare to return to Istanbul.

Mom’s open door policy and involvement in the Exchange in International Living led to her most challenging culinary moment, which occurred when I was a freshman in college. I returned home for the Jewish Passover holiday and, although I was not particularly observant, my mother was. She kept a kosher house, meaning she would not cook meat and dairy together in the same meal and she did not prepare un-kosher meat or fish (such as pork or shellfish). She had painstakingly trained the Taiwanese, the Palestinian, and the Turk in how to keep kosher so they wouldn’t accidentally mix up her meat and dairy dishes or silverware and un-kosher her kitchen. For Passover, she removed all her plates, cups, and silverware from her cupboards and drawers and replaced them with her Passover kitchenware (a meat set and a dairy set). She taped many of the drawers and cupboards shut, covered others with plastic, and she removed all prohibited food from the house. For one entire week, her kitchen produced only foods deemed kosher for Passover in the Ashkenazi tradition, which forbade any foods made from grains (except matzo) or legumes. No wheat, rye, barley, rice, pasta, beans, lentils, peas, soy, soy oil; the list goes on and on.

On this particular Passover, when I returned home, Mom had a houseful. My paternal grandmother, a diabetic with a heart condition, had moved in with my parents. She was on a restricted diet. My Palestinian brother, a Christian, was in Lent so he couldn’t eat meat. The Turk, a Muslim, was in Ramadan, so he couldn’t eat anything at all while the sun was in the sky. He had a pre-dawn breakfast and was pretty hungry each day by the time the sun officially set. I am vegetarian (no meat or fish). If memory serves, at that time a friend of mine (a lapsed Anglican), visiting from Scotland, was living with my parents while recovering from a medication allergy that had landed him in the hospital while touring the U.S. He had never met a Muslim or a Palestinian before. I was the first Jew he had ever known. He had no idea what Jews ate during Passover and relied on the Muslim and the Palestinian to help him navigate the kosher kitchen because Mom had taught them how to keep kosher. The Taiwanese was not present during this particular Passover season.

Armed with little more than twenty boxes of matzo, dozens of eggs, six jars of borscht, and ten pounds of gefilte fish (an acquired taste to say the least), Mom faced the dubious task of preparing a meal every evening for this eclectic household, which, by-the-way, also included my two younger brothers and Dad. Let me add that my youngest brother was an extremely picky eater who lived on ketchup sandwiches for most of his childhood. (Ketchup and matzo?) The food situation was, to say the least, mind-boggling. On my first night at home, Mom laid the ground rules. She informed all of us that she had filled the refrigerator and cupboards with kosher-for-Passover food and that she was not cooking for us. She told us to forage and prepare whatever we liked or were allowed, at whatever time we wished or were permitted to eat. “Just don’t un-kosher my kitchen,” she ordered. And that was that.

When Mom fell seriously ill in 2003, prayer circles of every religious denomination in places around the globe spoke her name and prayed for her recovery. And when Mom passed away in 2005, my Taiwanese brother drove four hours to her memorial service, my Palestinian brother flew in from Canada, and my Turkish brother phoned from Istanbul to tell us how much he wished he could be there to break bread with us in my mother’s house.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Obama Era Begins

What a week it has been. Tuesday evening I had a house full of friends who joined me to watch the returns. I have spoken with so many people who were not willing to believe we had a win until they declared it official because we have been disenfranchised twice before when the election was stolen from our grasp. I read one story about a man in Florida who slept in the room with the absentee ballots until election night so that no one could steal them! I was afraid to hope. But Obama is all about hope, isn’t he?
Ron was in Chicago, at ground zero, visiting his family. He didn’t go to Grant Park because you had to buy a ticket to get in. So he watched on TV at his sister Wanda’s house. He called me just after 8:00 my time hollering his head off. I was in the kitchen. “They just declared him the winner,” he whooped. At that moment screams and yells erupted in my living room as my friends saw Obama declared the winner on MSNBC. “It’s real, isn’t it?” I asked Ron. “They can’t take it away from us, can they?” He responded by asking, “Are you crying, Baby?” And I was.
The group celebrating at my house were a bunch of older folks and within minutes all the cell phones lit up as everyone’s children called. Our children. With a future again. I spoke with Yael and Akili, both so excited to have voted to make history. The guests in my house wept and hugged and rejoiced. My friend Margo said, “I never realized I was this patriotic, but I feel so patriotic. I’m proud to be an American again.” My thoughts exactly. My family, like Margo’s, fled anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe only a couple of generations ago. We expected so much from our new homeland. It has taken a long time to stand and deliver.
On Friday night I went to synagogue, where I asked the rabbi to help me say the prayer for coming safely through life-threatening danger. Our little congregation opened the ark together, put our hands on our Torah (our scroll is a Holocaust survivor), and spoke the prayer, which thanks God/Source/Spirit/Creator for sustaining us and nurturing us through a dangerous time. We made it through. The days ahead will not be perfect, perhaps not even smooth in any sense, but we have moved into a new era. I feel an evolutionary shift occurring. All things are again possible.
I want to share with you a pastiche of the words sent to me in response to the “WOO-HOO” email I sent out on Wednesday morning celebrating the win and inviting everyone to our inaugural ball here at the Villa on January 20. After these voices, you’ll find a picture of our new team. Love and light to you all. Rosa sat, Jesse marched, Oprah spoke, and Martin died for this moment in history to arrive.

It’s not just a new day, it’s a new era! I’ve been weeping on and off all morning, and did the same last night. I’m over the moon and ecstatic. I still can’t believe it either – I feel like I really do belong to this country after all (I was starting to wonder). –Julie Mozena, San Rafael, CA
I feel as if we have been let out of a cage and can take a wonderfully full deep inspiring breath!! –Naomi Puro, Berkeley, CA
At one point as I lay in bed, I looked out at the black sky with the shining stars and started to cry. Obama's election is like one of those stars in the dark sky. When we look up and see those lights from so long ago, it helps us feel connected to others throughout time and to remember that there is something
greater than us at work here. – Margo Frank, Ukiah, CA
The only disappointment for me was the passage of Proposition 8. Damn. Otherwise, it was a marvelous night. I will be there for the Inaugural Ball. I will even rent a tuxedo and wear my shiny shoes. –Calvin Johnson, Healdsburg, CA
Of course, the celebration this morning is dampened a bit for us by the fact that Kevin and I, along with 10% (or so) of the population lost an important civil right. We got married last Monday (“again” – our commitment to each other was in Paris in 1997, as you know) as a preemptive action in case Prop 8 passed. And, unfortunately, the religious right (including the Mormons) was successful at throwing us to the back of the bus and back to 2nd class citizen status. Oh well, we know we’re married “in our hearts”, but legislated discrimination hurts. Now that we’ve broken down one barrier and put America in a better place, we’ll just hope that we can continue until EVERYONE is equal, huh?! – Dave Larson, Berkeley, CA
I new you would be excited about Obama, and we are delighted, too. – Helen Lawrenson, Fife, Scotland
When I voted, I swear I stared at my ballot for a good 15 seconds before I moved to the next page. It looked SO good to see: D - Barack Obama and see the red X next to it. I lingered over the ballot and took longer than I needed to before I hit "Submit Ballot." Also, I read the words to the Black National Anthem again today and they have a lot more meaning now. – Keith Sowa (my nephew who served in Iraq for 2 years), Baltimore, MD
Isn't it amazing to regain the feeling that we actually live in a democracy again?!?!?! It wasn't until the concession speech that I could relax the fear that the shadow government was still going to pull the rug out from under us. – Elizabeth Raybee, Potter Valley, CA
I am hopeFULL and ecstatic. Maybe I should consider a job in Washington starting in January. – Lori Hinrichson, Putney, VT
When I called, my dad couldn't speak because he was crying. Mom was popping champagne. –Liz Logan, Marietta, GA
Yes, we are all jubilant!!! What a great time to be witnessing better times. I wonder how many other African-Americans did not get the chance to show what they have to offer because of color blindness. –Sylvia Winer, Schenectady, NY (a lifelong friend of my mother’s)
I can't believe it; for the first time in 8 years my brain is not hurting. – Jan Heissinger, White Plains, NY
Oh Yes We Did! Over this long 8 years, I've become so accustomed to carrying the burden of our destructive Federal Government that I forgot what real hope for the United States feels like. Last night, we counted down the seconds until the last polls closed and CNN announced the victory, then cheered, danced; The noise was deafening. Outside, bells were ringing and hundreds were in the streets high fiving everyone they passed, even those in passing cars. My car is wrecked from a recent accident; My basement is infested with hundreds of wasps; I don't know where the money will come from to pay my bills; and I am HAPPY! – Brother Bill Wachspress, Lawrence, KS
Could not work all day just had CNN sitting on my computer and zooming back and forth watching and counting. It's been a long time coming and I keep thinking singing (poorly) that Nina Simone song - It's a new day, a new dawn. –Pamela Miller, Auckland, New Zealand
Mom if you don't sit down and calm down somewhere… – Yael, my darling daughter
This has been the most emotional election I've ever experienced in my fifty years. I am filled with hope and elation - I feel so happy and proud of my country right now! I have been particularly moved by the stories and faces of older black folks, who are descended from slaves, who grew up under segregation, who weren't able to vote, who had to go to the back of the bus, who now can see someone who looks like them holding the highest office in the land. What joy they must be feeling today! And yet... Here, in California, those same voters have told me to go back to the back of the bus. More people voted for the right of chickens to have bigger cages than voted for Leslie's & my right to be married. I am trying to hold onto hope, the realization that the world has already changed so much more than I ever thought possible when I came out thirty years ago -- our day will indeed come. Three steps forward, two steps back. – Eris Weaver, Rohnnert Park, CA
Joel, who has been very active in the campaign, including making forays to Pennsylvania to campaign whenever he has a break from classes, called last night. I can't remember the last time I heard such excitement in his voice, probably when he was a little kid at Christmas. As corny as it sounds, I am feeling proud to be an American today. –Tom Tift, Albany, NY
Today almost every child in the After School Program couldn't wait to tell me that Obama had won and that he was our 44th president! The excitement of the children about a new president is something I have never seen before. How many children see themselves in Obama and see a bigger world of possibilities for themselves? I don't remember a time in life when I knew, I felt, that I was in the middle of history that I was experiencing the world change. The thrill of watching the videos from around the world of people celebrating, having my college-aged daughter, filled with joy, call and hold up her phone so I could hear the sounds of the spontaneous celebration that erupted in the quad at her dorms. – Janice Gartin-Kessler, San Pablo, CA
WOO HOO IS RIGHT MAH SISTAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My prayers remain strong that this new day will continually be blessed with good and just works! – Vera White-Crowl, Richmond, IN
Woo-hoo indeed! It's a new day. I can feel change in the air. Though very sad on the loss of civil liberties. [Referring to the passage of Prop. 8] It‘s the “end of an error,” as they said in Pravda. – Jennie Schacht, Oakland, CA
Prayer for the day from my sister-in-law: Barack atah Illinois, Elohenu melech ha'olam, boray p'ri ha-electorallandslide. –Deb Wachspress, Yardley, PA

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Words for Election Day

My dear college friend author Julia Alvarez sent me the link to this piece she wrote about the election for "Conversations with America" and I feel compelled to share it with you. It says it all.

Every Election Day when I get to vote, I cry. I do. I see people I know and people I don't know, old people, young people, parking their cars to claim their one vote, people who disagree with me and people who agree with me. But mostly I see ghosts. People who made this happen for me.

You see, I'm remembering. I'm remembering people from the Dominican Republic, the country we fled in 1960. I am remembering those who could not leave the dictatorship, the tios and tias, uncles and aunts, who wanted me to have this day. Some were freedom fighters, who died trying to win this right for me. Some were just scared, everyday people who lived without ever having had this day for themselves. I owe them my thanks, and I thank them by voting. On this day I get to say what kind of a world I want! I know the price tag of being able to have this right.

When I hear people say they're not going to vote, that it won't make a difference, I think, give it to me! I'll recycle it! I know a bunch of people who can use it. I'll send it to Piti, a Haitian worker in the mountains of the Dominican Republic, who dreams of some day studying in this country; or to Mari, who takes care of my mami and papi back in their homeland and asks me to bring her to the United States every time I visit. Or I'll send it just down the road right here in Vermont to Felipe or Telma or Roberto, Mexican migrant workers who are helping our local Vermont farmers stay on their farms, workers whose own children were born here, children who will one day be able to say what kind of a world they want because their parents thought of them.

I want everyone who can vote to vote. And as they do, I want them to remember that someone back then thought of us. I want us to vote not just for ourselves but for the children of the future, American or not.

The first settlers of this continent believed: "The earth is not given to us by our parents; it is loaned to us by our children." I want us to think about that debt and vote for the candidate who best remembers that promise and that promissory note - what we owe the children of the future: a green, viable, livable earth; a human family at peace, solving our problems together.

Relatives and friends in the Dominican Republic died so I could have this day. Forty-eight years later, in Weybridge, Vermont, a citizen of a whole other country, I get to vote because they thought of me. Now it's my turn. I'll vote thinking of children whose names I don't know and whose nationalities don't matter, but who deserve a future we have to start paying back to them. Someday it will make a difference that we thought of them today.


Copyright 2008 Julia Alvarez.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Blog Column and Tuesday Election Looming

I plan to explore opportunities for getting a gig writing a syndicated web column. I don’t know the first thing about how to do that, but I expect it’s an option that’s out there. To practice writing a weekly column, I’m going to switch the format for my blog. I’m going to post a column on Sundays. This will help me develop the discipline to write something once a week. I know that some of you check in regularly to see what I’m writing about and I would appreciate feedback in comments (or email) about how this column idea is going. You know me, always ready to take the plunge and try something different. Sudi once told me to stop having so many epiphanies. Life would certainly be so much simpler without the epiphanies.

I may need to write a mid-week blog on Wed. depending on the outcome of the election. I know they say Obama is leading by a wide margin, but I have been robbed before and I remain wary. Twice burned, thrice shy. I have been suffering panic attacks. I joined a prayer circle on MySpace for the Obama family, to protect them from harm. That’s one fear. After King, the Kennedys, Malcolm, Medgar, what can I say? I am terrified for his safety. May he and his family remain protected. I also fear another Corporate-Republican Machine strong-arm election fraud theft. What will keep them from saying there was an upset? Is there enough security at the polls this time? Is Diebold’s computer voting system tamper-proof? I have had my hopes dashed before.
And this time I am more emotional than I have ever been about an election. Because he’s Black? Certainly, although I keep reminding people that he’s biracial (I don’t buy the one drop of blood rule). Because he’s smart? Absolutely. Biggest reason. Finally I won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of having the village idiot as the president. And, AND, he will have the intelligence necessary to face the tough problems. He is a problem-solver. Because with a largely Democratic legislature, he will have the opportunity to finally make a real difference in the lives of so many people who are struggling to make a life here? Ah. That’s the important piece. The change we need is more than a slogan. I think perhaps we have a person who is up to the task. And finally, finally a dynamic, charismatic leader who can truly inspire people to rise to the challenge and make a better world. I do love America, this imperfect union, and I hope that on Tuesday I will witness us in one of our finest hours.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hot Roasted Peanut Stand

When we applied for our mortgage, the bank was concerned about the fact that I’m self-employed. The loan agent required me to take out a listing in a local directory of consultants (in the grant writers section). The listing has not brought me any viable work. I occasionally get a call from someone who saw the listing and is looking for a grant writer. It is almost always someone kind of weird with a bizarre project in mind. Last summer I got a phone call sparked by the listing from a guy named Jerry who was looking for a grant writer to write a grant to help him start a hot roasted peanut stand business. He planned to hire blind and deaf people to sell peanuts on street corners. When I told Ron about this, he said I should have shouted at Jerry, “ARE YOU NUTS?!”
Jerry seems to think he’s going to be doing these blind and deaf people a favor by setting them up with a job. As if by being blind or deaf they are incapable of doing anything better with their lives than selling peanuts on street corners. A person can’t possibly make an adult income selling peanuts. (What? You want me to work for peanuts?)
Ironically, his call interrupted me while I was writing a huge federal grant for funding for a project to train and place mentally ill disabled individuals in mainstream jobs and I was busy researching the Supported Employment Model, a tremendous research-proven framework built on the belief that, given adequate extra support, severely disabled people (including the mentally ill) can make a significant contribution in the workplace, earn a competitive wage, and develop a career path. Bad timing, Jerry. I suggested he call the Workforce Investment Board and went to make myself a peanut butter sandwich.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Matt's Dance

Have you seen Matt dance yet? A few years ago Matt traveled around the world and filmed himself dancing in different locations. He posted his dances on the internet. A corporate sponsor saw his dance and offered to send him around the world again to dance with more people. The result is the 2008 internet video of Matt dancing with people all over the world. I love this video and often watch it when I’m feeling down. It always cheers me. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the link. Watch Dancing 2008 to see Matt dance with the people of the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What That College Degree Is Worth

Now that Yael has finally graduated from college, she is looking for a “real” job in journalism, writing, communications, or related field. I’m about to blow an artery out I’m so mad at the Republicans for trashing our economy right when my darling daughter is entering the job market with her hard-earned degree. And Akili will be close behind when he graduates next year, probably December 2009. Yael says she’s going to try to get a publisher to give her an advance to write a book about how her college education is worthless because she can’t get work. She’s still bartending, while sending out literally hundreds of resumes weekly via email through several major job boards, like Monster and Yahoo Jobs. Speaking of Yahoo, did you see that Yahoo is laying off 1,200 workers? Businesses laying off workers. Experienced workers unable to retire or re-entering the job market because their retirement savings went down the drain. What’s a gal like my lovely daughter, with no experience and a hard-earned college degree, to do? I keep telling her that YES, a college degree is worth all the work, it shows strength of character and intelligence and perseverance and all that other good stuff. That it WILL get her a better-paying job, a job she loves, in the long run. I tell her to hang in there, keep applying, something will come along. What else can a Jewish Mom do? If I had the bucks I’d hire her myself to run my shoe-string publishing company. But the truth is, I’m barely working also in this lousy economy. I expect my grant writing to pick up in the next couple of months, it always does once the Feds start announcing all the Education Grants. Meanwhile, I’m Amy-the-Grantwriter, and I want McCain and Obama to speak to me like they did to Joe-the-Plumber. I am the middle class and I need help.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Showing the Obama Love

We mustn’t assume that a person will vote for Obama just because the person is Black. I think that’s a racist assumption. One of my business colleagues is a talented artist and a perfectly intelligent Black man who plans to vote for McCain because he (my colleague) is a die-hard conservative, is strongly opposed to abortion for any reason, has always voted Republican, and always will vote Republican come hell or high water. I will not comment on that logic. I have to say that I was disappointed to learn of his leanings, but this did remind me not to make assumptions. That said, I know that for the vast majority of Black folks in the country, Obama is the change for which they have waited for at least 300 years. Although Obama is biracial, meaning half Black and half Caucasian, he looks Black, and our culture views him as Black because he has more than a drop of Black blood. For most Black folks, that half Black is plenty, it’s a dream come true. (One comedian recently said he is voting for the white half of Obama.) I read a story this morning about an 84-year-old Black woman living in the South who suffered a massive heart attack. She was rushed to the hospital and they managed to save her life. The first words she uttered to her family when conscious and once again coherent were, “Get me an absentee ballot NOW!” I must share with you this photo, which says it all about what Obama means to most of the Black community.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Life Calculator

I noticed in the weekend magazine insert that they listed a website where you can go to fill out a brief questionnaire about your health and habits and have your life expectancy calculated. I did it and this one is really pretty good. The questionnaire is short, doesn’t take more than 10 mins. to do, and the questions are clearly key questions to ask. After you complete the questionnaire, the computer will calculate your life expectancy age for you, AND you have the opportunity to check out tips on what you can do to extend your life. The tips are excellent. It’s a great way to assess your health and your habits and consider making some changes. Having just completed the Jewish High Holidays, when Jews contemplate what they want to change about themselves in the coming year, this exercise was very apropos. Here is the link if you want to try it. Well worth the effort!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Divided Household

I'm still working on getting past my neighbor's McCain/Palin yard sign. But here is a family with a more serious yard sign issue than mine (photo taken by Bill Wooten in St. Louis--see comment below from Elaine about source of photo).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Elaine's Food Photo

Yael came home to visit last week and showed me how to put images into my blog entries. Finally! Something I have wanted to do for ages. Here goes with my first attempt. My pal Elaine in Willits has a lovely blog called Willits daily photo, which you can visit by clicking here. See, Yael also taught me how to insert links into my blog. I’m getting pretty high tech here at the blog. Here is my favorite recent photo from Elaine’s blog, where she posts a photo taken in the Willits area every day.
This was taken at the Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago (ah, farewell summer).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Carol's Words

My friend Carol, who is in her 70s, had this to say about the current economic crisis:
I let go of the idea of certainty about money, I let go of leaving money to my children and grandchildren. It was then that I laughed at our government needing to prop up the capitalistic structure with our tax dollars. I chuckled at the so-called experts running in confused circles and badmouthing each other. Then I looked into my self, because that’s got to be where my sense of security must begin. I asked, how can I nurture my sense of security? It turned out that for me meditation/prayer and simply the joy in the daily routine and the change of the seasons center me. They keep me grounded. I also thought about all the past Rosh HaShanahs and Yom Kippurs of the Jewish people, all those other times of trial and disaster. I thought about the advice we have received since the beginning of time. Trust in the Lord your God, be just and righteous in your dealings with the world. Take care of your family, be engaged in life-long study and learning. Remember the world can take your possessions, not your knowledge or the love we have for each other. Not bad advice in difficult times.
I can’t quite say I trust in a god the way Carol does, but I certainly identify with the rest of her words. Carol survived breast cancer earlier this year, but she was a pretty wise lady even before her brush with death.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rosh Hashanah 2008

Today is the Jewish New Year, when Jews reflect on the past year and think about the year ahead. The deepest work of Rosh Hashanah is teshuvah, or, literally “turning.” Teshuvah is also translated as “repentance.” But it is more than that. It has to do with transformation. At the new year we focus on changing ourselves for the better, changing the world for the better. I think of those bumper stickers I’ve seen that say “Be the change.” Or, in the words of Hopi Chief Dan Evehema, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” So today I will go for my early morning walk, do a little meditative writing, attend synagogue, and think about what I need to change about myself. For instance, I think I need to address my disappointment in my neighbors for being Republicans and figure out how to get past it. The election will come and go. But we will live across the street from one another for a long time. Oy. Life is too complex for my feeble brain.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Sign of the Times

My neighbors put a McCain/Palin sign on their front lawn across the street from our Obama ‘08 sign. Why did this make me so upset? They are entitled to their opinion as much as I’m entitled to mine. This is America, right? So why did I have trouble moving past this sign? My husband finally burned out listening to me obsess and told me to just get over it. I had insomnia for two nights thinking about that stupid sign. I really like those neighbors.

This week’s issue of Time includes an article written by a journalist who got in his car and drove around Missouri talking to “ordinary” people who vote. He stood in someone’s driveway and gabbed with a half a dozen couples about why they are voting for whom. He should have come to my neighborhood. A lot of neighborhoods are torn by this election. A lot of neighborhoods, families, circles of friends. I think I’m so right on issues, candidates, and moral imperatives. How can so many other people be so wrong?

And why am I having so much trouble with the neighbors’ sign? When we moved into our house in June, Mike and Judy welcomed us with warmth and generosity. Every time they saw us, they stopped to talk. They came to our housewarming party. They offered to help us set up for it and offered to bring chairs over from their house. They offered to loan us tools for home projects. They offered to help us work on our deck. They are good-hearted folks. Not much older than us, they are both retired and in their retirement they have a home business managing the “home base” for firefighting teams throughout the state. They cook for firefighters all summer long, often driving all night when a fire breaks out to set up the base in time to have hot coffee and breakfast ready for weary firefighters.

A few days ago, I took the plunge and asked Judy, “So, I see your sign, and I’m wondering what you think McCain will do for you?” A benign question. Trying not to be too confrontational. Judy replied (apologetically, mind you) that her family is Republican and has been for generations, is against gay marriage and abortion, that she’s a conservative, always has been, that’s just the way she is. She says security comes first and therefore she will vote for McCain. “What do we really know about Obama? What do you know about him?” she demanded. I didn’t want to touch that one. So I asked, “What do you think about Sarah Palin?” Again, a benign question. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. I felt incredulous more than anything and wanted to understand. I wondered how this intelligent woman could completely miss the boat like this. Judy replied, “I think she’s a real bombshell. We have friends in Alaska and they love her.”

I didn’t argue any of these points with Judy. I didn’t explain to her why McCain would make us less secure in the same way that Bush did by alienating most of our allies around the world, killing thousands of innocent people thus enraging their families and countrymen, and stomping around in places we didn’t belong in big boots while talking embarrassingly loud. We are the ugly American. We are the target. Security comes with building relationships, not shooting people. I didn’t mention that the supply-side economics of Reagan, Bush times two, and McCain, that says that if you keep giving money to the wealthy it will trickle down to the middle class and the poor, doesn’t work. It did not trickle down. It trashed the economy. I still don’t get how giving money to rich people equals giving money to poor people. I didn’t point out that the largest political demonstration in the history of the State of Alaska just took place in Anchorage and it was an anti-Palin rally. I did wonder how someone who thinks Obama lacks experience could feel comfortable placing Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency. She has barely been out of provincial Alaska and confesses that she is a Washington outsider. As for my knowledge of Obama, I’ve read both his books so I think I know a little about him. Sigh.

I did not say any of these things to Judy; instead I asked about her mother’s health and what her grandchildren are up to lately. As we parted and walked to our separate houses, separate signs, I realized why that sign upsets me so much. It upsets me because I like Judy and Mike. And I want for us to be good neighbors and I want for us to be friends and I want to enjoy their company. Now I will have to work twice as hard at it because we are very different sorts of folks. Just thinking about that work makes me tired. But I am committed to doing it because political candidates will come and go while Mike and Judy will be my neighbors for at least another 20 years or more if we live long enough. Here, on the ground, outside Washington, I live across the street from good folks and I will do the necessary work to appreciate them, enjoy them, and remain grateful.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Anniversary of Harry

Do you know what today is? It’s the tenth anniversary of the U.S. release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the very first Harry Potter book. I know that many of you out there in blog-land have no interest in Harry, but for a children’s fantasy adventure junkie like myself, Harry is the top of the line. J.K. is the master-ess. I can hardly believe that the Potter phenomenon started only ten years ago. My boys and I have read them all. Some more than once. All out loud to Sudi except the final book, which he read to himself. I remember one Labor Day Weekend party when friends Janice and Mark and their girls camped out at the Ranch and they were at the very end of The Goblet of Fire. On Sunday afternoon, Janice sat in our living room and read the last chapter aloud to her girls. I had already read the book, so didn’t mind hearing the ending. Same for many other guests. We gathered around Janice and listened. Magic moments. I can still hear her voice in my head, reading Harry’s words to the twins when he gives them his tournament winnings to start the joke shop. With Voldemort on the loose, he tells them, “I could do with a few laughs. We could all do with a few laughs. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them more than usual before long.” You said it, Harry.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bail Out

Help. I need someone to bail me out. I live in middle class America. Our medical bills exceed our mortgage. We have two sons to get through college. We are over-budget on the necessary repairs to our new home. The price of gas and food has demolished our budget. In the midst of all this, our brainless president wants me to bail out his wealthy cronies on Wall Street. What is wrong with this picture? I need a bail out a lot more than the wealthy financiers. Trickle down does not appear to be trickling down. Below is an abridged version of an email message I received asking me to complain about footing the bill for this bail out.

If Wall Street firms can't meet a few basic conditions, they can get their money somewhere else.

Congress is on the brink of making a one-sided deal to give George W. Bush a blank check - offering a trillion taxpayer dollars to Wall Street to cover its bad debts. That works out to somewhere between $2000 and $5000 from every American family. So what do the taxpayers get in return?
Nothing. No new regulation or oversight to help avoid this kind of crisis in the future. No public interest givebacks to help people whose homes are in the hands of the banks. Perhaps most shockingly of all, the taxpayers get absolutely no share in the profits if and when these finance giants bounce back, even though we are now assuming a great deal of the risk.
This is a blank check to some of the richest companies in the world.
Congress doesn't have to agree to a blank check. Instead, it can choose to impose a few sensible conditions on the bailout to ensure that it will be used responsibly. Here are a few suggestions courtesy of Robert Reich:

1. If the taxpayers are shouldering the risk, the taxpayers should reap any eventual benefits.
2. If we're paying (more than) our fair share, the CEOs and executives should have to, too.
3. No more campaign contributions from Wall Street executives and PACs.
4. Better regulations start right now.
5. Bankruptcy judges get broader leeway to help homeowners.
Congress must take swift and prudent action to avoid making a burgeoning crisis that much worse. You can help by making your voice heard to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Finance Chair Barney Frank, Senate Banking Chair Chris Dodd, and the de facto leaders of the two parties: Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.

Go here to find out more and sign a petition:
http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/no_blank_check/?r=1606&id=912-1177631-N3Xhcpx

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bruce Is On the Roof

Bruce-the-Roofer inspected our roof before we bought our house in May. He explained in great detail, with glossy pictures as proof, that the front slope (large section) was shot and was leaking into the attic. It was in dangerous need of repair. This was not a simple matter since we have a cap and pan tile roof vintage 1978. It’s old and it’s a complex project. We negotiated the price of our house based on Bruce’s estimate of $10,000 to fix the roof. The sellers agreed to split the cost with us.

After we bought the house, I called Bruce and asked him to do the work. He mailed me a contract that listed the cost of repair at $16,000! Wait a minute, how did the price inflate like that? I got two more estimates from other roofers. Both were at least twice as much as Bruce’s quote. I resigned myself to going over budget on the roof. Then I spent over two months attempting to get Bruce to answer his phone. Office phone. Cell phone. Could NOT get this man to respond. I left a message every day. I left notes in the mailbox at his office. One day I saw him standing by the side of the road talking to someone in a truck. Eeeee, wheels screeched, I pulled over, jumped out of my car, and grabbed him. Bruce! Bruce!

It turns out that Bruce lost his crew. One guy left town. One guy decided he never wanted to work as a roofer again as long as he lived. One guy got arrested and sent to prison. One guy was hiding at home with a bad tattoo. The dog ate Bruce’s contracts. He got a flat tire. His cell phone fell in the lake and stopped working. But, the good news for me was that Bruce had cancelled all his big summer jobs so he had time for me. He promised he’d be at my house Monday and he’d just plug away and do my roof himself. He promised to have it done in two weeks, well before the rainy season. On August 9, Bruce started working on my roof. He is still up there. Rain is in the forecast for this weekend. Yesterday he rolled out plastic.

Over the past six weeks he has frequently disappeared for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. I can’t get him on his phone when I call so I gave up, even though I hear him on my roof talking on his cell phone all day long. He never tells me when he’ll be up there and when he won’t. Sometimes he wakes us up at seven in the morning on a Sunday hammering and pounding. Sometimes he turns up at three in the afternoon, works for two hours, and leaves. Six or seven different Spanish-speaking helpers have traipsed through and lasted a day or two with him. Yesterday some guy turned up with his teenager to see if Bruce would hire the kid to work on our roof. Two weeks ago Bruce took our skylight out and put it in the front yard. He covered the hole with a board and informed me I needed a new skylight, which I ordered, but it takes two weeks to get one. It would have been good to have had a heads up on that a few weeks ago. Once, when Bruce had disappeared for a week, I realized he had left water leaking from a hose on the roof. It took me several days to notice it. I dread the water bill. On Monday his wife called me to tell me Bruce had just dropped a nail through my skylight and he wanted to warn me not to step on it. “Robin,” I said, “why are you calling? Why didn’t Bruce call? Or ring my doorbell? Or just come inside and retrieve the nail?” Robin had no idea. If she has no idea then I haven’t a chance because she’s been married to Bruce for thirty years.

A few days after I put my Obama sign out on the front lawn, Bruce called down to me, “What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?” I thought he was about to tell a roofing joke. He was serious. His sister-in-law watches Fox News all day long and is a rabid Sarah Palin fan. Bruce wanted my advice on how to convince her to vote for Obama. I suggested a strong shot of Scotch and anti-psychotic medication. Apparently Bruce is an outcast in his very Republican family because he plans to vote for Obama. While I brainstormed with Bruce about how to convert his family in time for the election, I couldn’t help but notice that my roof was not even remotely close to being completed.

As of today the skylight has still not arrived. Half the roof looks completed. The other half does not. Rain is in the forecast.

Bruce is on the roof. Thanks for listening. I feel much better.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Peaches on 9/11

Today we commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, an event that has shaped the worldview of my children’s generation in the same way that the Kennedy and King assassinations shaped the worldview of mine. I am gratified to see that Obama and McCain have set aside their differences for a day to stand together to honor the dead and comfort those who continue to grieve for their loss. I believe that this action by these two presidential candidates illustrates our only hope for the future: we must acknowledge and move past our differences.

As a lifelong pacifist, I believe that retaliation is never the answer. Retaliation is the problem and justice is the answer. We of the U.S. must face up to the consequences of our actions in the world and understand that we are not immune to large-scale tragedy. If nothing else, this was the mighty lesson of 9/11. We must understand that the family members of those we have murdered in other lands, for whatever reason, lofty or not, might hold a valid grudge. We must accept that we are vulnerable to their rage. Will Americans ever understand that our safety and security at home depends on the safety and security of the rest of the world? ALL the rest of the world? We are in this together.

On the evening of September 11, 2001, I received an email from my friend Sue. She wanted to connect with her friends around the country. She told us that in the wake of the terrorist attacks within our borders, she was at a loss for what to do. She took some peaches from her peach tree to a neighbor. While walking to the neighbor’s house with the peaches, she resolved to engage in acts of kindness with a new dedication. She decided this would be her way of responding to the inhumanity that threatens to engulf us. The significance of Sue’s choice of action is not lost on me, a Jew, whose family would not be alive today if not for the simple acts of kindness committed by ordinary people struggling to remain human and caring in extraordinarily inhuman and brutal circumstances. In the broader vision of history, many of these simple acts of kindness are recognized as heroism. Thus, in the post-9/11 world, we must act bravely by holding fast to the moral value of caring for others. We must hold fast to the value of love.

It is not so difficult to love our families, our own children (well, OK, sometimes the children get grisly and don’t exactly bring out the love in us, but usually they are extremely lovable). It is far more difficult to love the stranger, the other, those not like us whose values and perceptions differ from ours. I do not believe that people are fundamentally the same. As long as we think that people are fundamentally the same, then racism, injustice, war, and terrorist acts will continue. People are different and that difference is the essence of the richness, the wonder of humankind. That difference is our greatest resource, our greatest challenge, and the gem that we must chisel from our rough perception. Rather than forcing similarity where it doesn’t exist, we must take that terrifying step of trying to walk in someone else’s shoes, of making the effort to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Terrifying because we risk transformation. We risk being deeply and irrevocably changed by what we learn from this experience.

Unlearning racism is not the same as tolerance. Tolerance is putting up with the mystifying actions of someone different from oneself. Tolerance is a fragile veneer. Unlearning racism is about opening our hearts to the possibility that there are beliefs not our own that have value and that our personal view of the world and our view of life is not the one and only right one, the only truth. There are many truths. A Buddhist monk once told me that being a good Jew was being a good Buddhist in his worldview. Unfortunately for us struggling humans, oftentimes different truths are in conflict with each other. If we truly wish to see justice and peace prevail in the world, then we must accept that our personal truths constitute only one perception out of a multitude of perceptions, and that right and wrong may not be as straightforward as we would wish. My fundamental truths and values may differ considerably from those of someone else, in fact, they may contradict each other. Who has the vision or the right to determine which of our truths or values is better or more accurate or correct? We have to live with that and find a way to avoid fighting about it. We have to be big enough, wise enough, brave enough, compassionate enough, and caring enough to learn from each other and to permanently change each other.

In short, we must all show the bravery of heroes. We must take each other peaches from our trees. We must listen, question, strive to understand, listen to the words of the voice and the words of the heart. Listen without fear of transformation, confusion, and doubt. Listen to hear more than one truth. Listen as if our lives depended on it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pancakes or Octopus

I have been having fun lately writing short memoir essays for a website that hosts writing contests. Today I wrote an essay about raising picky eaters. Here is an excerpt from that essay for your reading pleasure.
I remember one time returning from a family outing to the beach when I promised the children we could stop at the IHOP (International House of Pancakes) on the way home. As we drove from the Pacific Coast inland, we passed one roadside fish joint after another. Sudi, who loves fish, started pointing out the signs and reading them aloud. “Look, fresh crabs at that place. Look, fresh fish, caught today. Look Mom. Can we stop here and eat?” I turned to Ron, “What do you think? Should we stop here instead of the IHOP?” Just then we passed a sign that read “fresh octopus.” Akili pointed out to his younger brother, “Are you nuts? We go to the IHOP, we get pancakes for dinner, we stop here and it’s octopus. Which do you prefer? Pancakes or octopus? That’s the choice. Pancakes. Octopus. Pancakes. Octopus.” Sudi piped up immediately, “I can wait for the IHOP. Never mind.”

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sarah Palin vs. Books

From the folks at Shelf-Awareness E-zine comes the following satirical look at Sarah Palin’s relationship to books. (She recently attempted to have a long list of books with “objectionable words” in them removed from libraries in Alaska.)

Flash forward to January 21, 2009 . . .


In her first official act, Vice President Sarah Palin has asked for the resignation of Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

After a little distraction as Dick Cheney's staff received new business cards and stationery reflecting their transition to Palin's staff, the Vice President's Office issued the following statement this morning over Palin's signature:

"President McCain and I came to the nation's capital with a mandate for change, and I am pleased to begin that process right in the heart of Washington. When I took that oath or whatever yesterday, I looked over at the Library of Congress building and immediately had several questions.

"First, what is it with all the books? Isn't it enough to have our Declaration of Independence on display at the National Archives? Luckily the Archives have room for the upcoming Alaskan Declaration of Independence.
"Second, aren't books basically elitist? Most real Americans are too busy to read. So let's clear the books out and make use of this prime bit of real estate.

"We can begin with test bores that will quickly show whether there are natural resources beneath the Library that could be extracted for the benefit of all Americans. If that doesn't pan out, I believe that with some outside-the-Washington-box thinking we can come up with some cool adaptations for what's left of the building.

"That big room with the dome would make an ideal ice rink, and there's plenty of space elsewhere for a shooting range. Part of the building ought to be converted to a hotel, which would be a much more convenient place for my successors as mayor and governor to stay when they come to Washington to seek even more federal earmarks for Alaska. I know from experience that it can be like an Ironman race going from the hotel to K Street to the Capitol to fancy restaurants and back--and not a mooseburger in sight!

"On the way to the Inauguration Ball, I called Mr. Billington to ask that he implement these ideas. He did not agree to them. This led me to do a Google search on him. That thorough vetting process has resulted in shocking revelations about the Librarian. Among the issues:

"A year ago, he appointed Jon Scieszka the first national reading ambassador. Why not Jack London? Or Ernest Hemingway?

"Why did the Librarian write so many books about Russia? I know Russia: I've seen it from across the Bering Strait and believe me there's not much going on.

"Why has he helped bring so many 'scholars' from Russia to study here?

"What's with all these awards from foreign countries, especially the honorary doctorate from Moscow State University? What's the matter with American awards?

"He has held this job 21 years. In my book, 21 months in one position is more than enough.

"What and why is the National Book Festival? Sure it was supported by the last First Lady, but she represented an administration we Republicans are happy to have sent packing yesterday. Why not a National Snowmobile Festival?"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

First Anniversary of Passing of Madeleine L'Engle

It has been one year since the death of the writer Madeleine L'Engle. She was my favorite writer when I was growing up. Last year I posted the following on my now defunct Shakabaz Blog and I want to post it here today to remember this magnificent spirit. Here's what I wrote when I first heard the news:

Yesterday I heard the news of Madeleine L'Engle's passing. I still remember the first time I read A Wrinkle In Time when I was a little girl. I finished the book and then opened it up to the first page and simply read it all again. I was transported. I had finally found a heroine, a real heroine, who was not just a prop to a boy hero, and I identified with her. Geeky, glasses, smart, shy, making it all up as she went. I think a million or more little girls read this book with a tremendous sigh of relief -- finally, we said to ourselves.
I fell in love with the Murrays. And the Austins. I traveled The Moon By Night, I swam with the dolphins in Ring of Endless Light. As an adult, I read Two-Part Invention. I read A Wrinkle In Time aloud to my stepsons, then my daughter, then each of my sons in turn. My youngest made me read it to him a second time. I have never read any book aloud to children as many times as that. And I could do it again in a heartbeat.
Madeleine L'Engle's positive vision of love and compassion, of the collective power of the good in all of us to make the world right, stays with me. I cannot think of another writer who has done anymore than Madeleine L'Engle to make the world a better place. It is with great sadness that I mark her passing and force myself to accept the fact that she will not pen another word. Continue on your journey ML, we will miss you here on earth.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shakabaz Out in Audio

This week my children’s fantasy book The Call to Shakabaz is coming out in audio. The book is read aloud by Andrew L. Barnes, an opera singer and voice over artist who also owns Legacy Audio Books, which produced the book in collaboration with Woza Books (our publishing company). Andrew L. Barnes reads the narration and the male characters while actress Adilah Barnes (no relation) reads most of the female characters. The audio book includes original music composed specifically for the project. Even if you have already read the book, you may want to treat yourself to the audio version. To find out more or to order a copy go to the website for Legacy Audio Books at www.legacyaudiobooks.com and look for info on the home page. Now I have to get busy getting the word out about this brand new delight!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

DNC

How about that Joe Biden? I’ve been watching the Democratic National Convention and OK, I confess it has me on the edge of my seat. In Obama’s words, “Hillary rocked the house.” Bill was on his game like old times. Joe Biden hit it out of the park. What a stand-up guy. I look forward to hearing Obama tonight. I am so delighted to see these events unfold, hear these words, and witness these images in my lifetime. Unfortunately, I anticipate that the corporate powers, who own the government, will use the same system they have perfected over the past ten years to rig the election. Until the electoral system changes, so that the corporate junta now in power is unable to use their techniques to “win” an election, nothing will change. The only hope for Obama and Biden is if they can win by such a landslide that it is literally impossible to convince the country that they lost by a hair, as in the past two elections. Right now, during the DNC, when the Democrats have center stage, dominate the media, and typically gain an edge with the public because of the spotlight, the latest polls cited in the newspaper state that McCain is (for the first time) 2% ahead of Obama in the polls. Can you believe that McCain would be capable of gaining that lead suddenly now? Me neither. Makes you think. Who’s taking the poll? Was it counted by Diebold? Obama is young enough to have the audacity to hope. For me, it’s not about hope, it’s about prayer. I’m praying for a miracle.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mysterious Messages to Myself

As I grow older, not only do I have an unreliable memory to contend with, but my handwriting is deteriorating as well. The combination of the two is both exasperating and hilarious. I am constantly writing notes to myself so I remember things and then I don’t remember what the note means, it’s too cryptic or abbreviated for me to figure out, or I can’t read my writing. I use this nifty mnemonic aid called a dry erase board. I write things that I need to remember on the board, because if I don’t write it down it doesn’t happen. I value this tool above my adjustable crescent wrench—that’s high praise. But the board is only effective when I can figure out what I wrote. Same goes for all those post-it notes that ring my desk. For instance, the notation DRD made me crazy for days before I remembered that I needed to buy a birthday card for DAD. Then what the heck did “tonion” mean? I don’t’ have the patience for good handwriting anymore (it takes too much time). The tonion was tuition. I needed to pay Akili’s college tuition so he could register for class. Carol. Who was that and what was I forgetting to do for her? I remembered eventually that it was caroil—I needed to take the car in to have the oil changed. Compost Biz. I could read that one, but what did it mean? Was I supposed to go into business selling compost? I remembered when the raccoons dragged compost all over the driveway again—it meant I needed to secure the compost so they couldn’t get in. Sex. Am I so ancient and feeble that I need a reminder to have some? No, it was sox. Sudi needed new sox. Phew, that’s a relief.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dog Story

I don't usually post such long blog entries as the one below. I wrote this "memoir" about our family dog for another project and thought it would be fun to post on the blog. Read part, all, or none, as time permits. This is the story of the family dog from my childhood.

When I overheard Mom say “We got the kids a dog,” to a friend on the phone, I figured that meant that Dad officially qualified as one of us kids, because that dog was Dad’s from the moment he and the dog laid eyes on each other. Happy was a Kerry Blue terrier, and he was never for a moment for the kids. We were his hobby. Dad was his profession.

Dad has been a boy scout his whole life. He even wore the uniform with the shorts on an airplane when he chaperoned (as assistant scoutmaster) a scouting group that went to Scotland in the 1980s. At nearly 80 years old, he still goes out hiking with the scouts in no other capacity than as a scout himself. Perhaps he’s the oldest living boy scout in the country. Back in their heyday, he and Happy went all over the map with the scouts. They frequently camped in subzero weather together. And I mean together. Dad put Happy in the sleeping bag with him because he didn’t want the pooch to freeze to death. Dad told us that you didn’t really know a dog until you shared a sleeping bag with him.

Whenever we sang “Happy Birthday” to someone in our house, Happy barked like mad. At first we thought perhaps he was singing. Then we thought perhaps he had perfect pitch and Dad’s tone-deaf singing made him go crazy. But after many years, we realized that he barked because he thought we were singing for him, since his name was Happy. As he grew older, all we had to do was light candles and he’d bark with glee, anticipating his song.

In the evenings, after supper, Dad often sat in the den and watched TV while Happy sat at his feet with his nose buried in his nether parts where he blissfully licked himself. Dad used to say that if men could do that there would be no wars. To my knowledge, Happy was a pacifist his whole life. He never fought with other dogs, who occasionally beat him up. His greatest fear was the water. He refused to step into a pool, lake, ocean, river, or any water not coming from a hose. When Dad tried to teach him to swim, he clung to Dad, literally wrapping his front paws around Dad’s neck and not letting go while he shivered in terror.

Happy’s one sworn enemy was the bread basket, which lived atop the refrigerator. Whenever we had need of a container for the dinner rolls, Happy followed hot on Mom’s heels barking furiously as she moved that basket from its home on the fridge to the dinner table. I once saw him run into a wall while giving that basket what-for.

We had a fenced-in portion of our back yard for Happy to claim as his own space. Mom said he used the yard to “do his business.” It was ludicrous for her to use such delicate phrasing, since Dad delighted in describing Happy’s “business” from his evening walk in great detail at the dinner table. We got the latest report about color and consistency along with our tuna noodle casserole. Update at eleven.

Happy spent his spare time digging a hole in the corner of his fenced-in yard. Mom called the hole Happy’s “Great Escape.” We thought he was trying to dig his way out of the yard so he could get a better shot at the squirrels. But he was no engineer and the hole went straight down, not under the fence.

Dad was quite the athlete. He played hand ball in the winter and tennis in the summer. Hiked. Biked. Ping-pong. He won tennis trophies in the men’s league in our home town. In the summers, when he returned dripping with sweat from a tennis game, he would lay down on the living room floor and let Happy lick the salt off him. That, and bubblegum, where Happy’s favorite treats. The trash cans were in Happy’s yard and he managed to extract used bubblegum from them in ways we could only imagine. Unfortunately for him, the bubblegum stuck in his teeth. Mom was constantly having to dig it out of his mouth. Happy was usually Dad’s dog, but when he had bubblegum in his teeth, he was all Mom’s. He was also hers when he committed an indiscretion that required paper towels and Lysol, such as vomiting behind the living room couch. Dad would find the indiscretion and tell Mom, “Look what your dog did.”

Happy was a purebred dog and as such he suffered from asthma. One day, when he was about twelve years old, he had an asthma attack that morphed into a series of seizures. Dad took him to the vet immediately, but there was nothing that could be done. The vet sedated him, but when the sedative wore off, he began to have more seizures. He died in Dad’s arms. Mom told me afterward that Dad wept more over the loss of that dog than he had at the death of his mother.

After we lost Happy, Dad called the breeder who had sold Happy to us as a puppy. She told Dad that Happy had outlived his siblings and cousins. She had kept track of all of them and none had lived as long as Happy. Obviously, none of them were as “happy” either. My parents had Happy cremated and they brought his ashes home where they buried them in the Great Escape, finally filling in the hole that Happy spent his whole life digging. Dad told people that Happy dug his own grave.

In the spring, Mom and Dad planted a dogwood tree over Happy’s ashes in the Great Escape. The dogwood is beautiful to look at and smells a lot better than Happy, but Dad can’t take it for a walk or blame his farts on it. It’s a cruel twist of nature that dogs have a life span so much shorter than humans. Dad and Happy would have been good growing old together, sharing a sleeping bag, chasing squirrels, defending their loved ones from that dangerous bread basket.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Best Revenge

I have a friend, let’s call her Kay. Kay is a pediatrician and her husband has an equally lucrative job. When they were young, they adopted twin boys. The boys had an older sister, whom they eventually adopted as an adult. When the twins were teenagers, Kay and her husband started their own family. They have three biological sons. Oddly enough, two of them are also twins, now 10. Yesterday I learned that the older sister of the adopted twins was killed by a psychotic boyfriend, leaving her three children orphaned. You guessed it. Kay and her husband have taken these three in as well, the youngest is 4 (a girl). Oddly enough, the family liked this boyfriend. He seemed gentle and smart and they approved. But he had only been in the picture for a month or so. Still in the getting-to-know-one-another phase. Who would have guessed? And I think about this crazy murder and ask myself where this negative energy comes from and what conceivable purpose can such stuff serve? Kay and her husband are certainly in shock, and putting one foot in front of the other with these three more children to raise. They do not appear to wish to avenge the death of their adopted daughter. They have the greatest compassion for the mentally ill perpetrator. They are focused on the well-being of the children. Raising the children well is their best revenge.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Elena

Tomorrow I will go to Berkeley for a remembrance and celebration for our beautiful beloved Elena, who was struck and killed by a truck while bicycling to work in Oakland one year ago August 9th. She would have been 56 on August 24, 2008. So young. So many years for those of us still here to live without her. She was Sudi’s godmother. A truly evolved spirit. Perhaps there was simply no more work for her to do on this plane and so she took wing. Those of us left behind will continue to sorely miss her. Tomorrow many of her friends and family will meet at Aquatic Park in Berkeley to celebrate her vibrant spirit and experience the web of love she wove with others dear to her or who were touched by her life. Death builds a difficult divide. Hard to bridge.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dolphins

Well, it’s over and done with. Another great event with my hyper-functional family. We enjoyed a glorious day at Manresa Beach (just South of Santa Cruz). Kites. Boomerangs. Frisbee. Surfing. Boogie-boarding. Skim boarding. My youngest son Sudi dug a hole to China and then his little nephew Ben (age 6) spent hours jumping into it and subsequently trying to climb out. Sudi enjoyed pretending he was walking along the beach, didn’t see the hole, and then falling right in, disappearing. Akili managed to get my frog kite aloft. I rented wet suits for my niece and nephews so they could play all day and not get cold. Everyone in the family it seems remarked to me, “Wow, you got their sizes just right.” Yeah, of course, because I had my sister-in-law email me their sizes beforehand! The highlight of the day at the beach was a visitation by a large school of dolphins. They came so close in by the shore that Sudi could practically reach out and touch them. My nephew age 11 saw the fins and freaked—he thought they were sharks at first. But then he realized that no one was fleeing and he relaxed, looked again, and squealed with glee to discover he was surrounded by dolphins. They jumped out of the water and played with each other and wove between the human swimmers for a long time, easily more than an hour. They seemed to be showing off. Ron snapped a terrific photo of a couple of them in the surf (right near the shore) and you can see their faces and their bemused smiles. It was one of the most extraordinary beach experiences I have ever had and I was delighted to share it with my family.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Homework

OK, I’m about to disappear for a week for my family reunion. In the meantime, here’s some homework for you readers. There’s an essay contest that you can enter. I mean it, you can do it. And the prize is big. You simply have to describe a true-life story in 2,000 words or less. Yes, that’s “or less.” It doesn’t have to be 2,000 words. It can be shorter. You can win $1,000 in the monthly prize and be eligible to win $250,000 (you heard right) in the grand prize in December if it’s a really great story. There is no entry fee. Just sign up at Field Report. Everyone has a really great story in them. Tell yours. This one has to be true. Here’s the link. Go read more. You can enter as many essays as you like. I hope someone I know wins. I’ll be entering some essays next week when I get back from the beach! Check it out at FIELDREPORT - SECOND CONTEST: http://www.fieldreport.com

Monday, August 4, 2008

Family Reunion

This week my whacky family will descend on me for a family reunion. Dad is flying in from points East on Wednesday and wants the hot tub turned up to 104 degrees for him. That would cook me—I’m post-menopausal. I better start heating it today. Brother Bill arrives from Kansas on Wednesday too. He’s the uncle everyone wishes they had. He makes balloon animals, skateboards, sings opera, juggles, throws boomerangs, and knows how to fix everything. Meanwhile, Brother Dan the rocket scientist and his lovely wife are plummeting toward us as they travel cross-country in a rented van with their three young children. Dan is re-enacting a cross-country trip we made with Dad when we were kids. I’m glad that Dan had such a happy childhood that he makes every effort to recreate it for his own clan. Although we camped at all the National Parks and Dan’s wife will have none of that—motel rooms all the way. Even so, they’ll be visiting all the same splendid National Parks on Dad’s tour all those years ago. My adult children will join us at KOA cabins near the beach in Santa Cruz over the weekend for an ocean-style family get-together. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole mishpachah, but it certainly is a lot of work. Food. Bedding. Towels. Beach gear. Camping gear. Ron says I love to organize this kind of stuff. The truth is that I hate to organize it but I love to have it happen and I don’t see anyone else stepping up to the plate. We’ll have the time of our lives. But I miss Mom.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Unpublished Poems

For his 60th birthday, my friend Stan compiled all of his favorite poems that he has written since he was a young man, made copies (about 100 pages) and gave the “sheaf” to all his favorite friends and family (some 40 people). Today he gave me my copy. Stan has a rather interesting biography. Ordained as a Catholic priest, he left the priesthood to marry the love of his life and have a family. He and his wife have two grown sons. He works in public health. His rollicking sense of humor always makes me laugh and he is someone I like to look at the stars with while pondering spiritual matters. After Stan left my house today, I weighed that sheaf of poems in my hands. Stan has never published his poems so I am grateful to be one of those select 40 who will have the opportunity to read them. And I am also once again saddened at the way of the publishing industry, which makes it near impossible for other poetry lovers to have access to Stan’s work. The energy it would take for him to get the attention of an agent or publisher is not worth expending. His energy is better used writing his poetry. That’s what he loves. Well, he also loves having others read it. So his birthday present to himself is to be read. I regret that I will miss all the words of the other Stans out there whom I will never read. Too many poems, too little time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Smart Kitties

My son Akili sent me a video of a cat flushing the toilet. No, not a tidy cat, an obsessive compulsive cat. The story behind the video claims that a couple had a huge water bill and couldn’t figure out what was leaking until one day one of them stayed home from work and discovered that little pussycat had an obsession with flushing the toilet and batting at the water vortex as it went down. The cat was flushing the toilet over and over again all day long for entertainment. If you want to see this in action, here’s the address of the video download: water-leak.wmv

My Ella doesn’t get off on flushing the toilet, but she’s a very smart kitty. In our old house, she figured out how to put her claw around the edge of the screen door and let herself in and out of the kitchen. She taught her sister how to do it too. In the new house we have a sliding screen door. She figured out how to bump it with her head until it moves just enough for her to get her claw around it and open it. Her sister hasn’t worked that out yet. So she has to wait for Ella to open the door and let her in.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hell's Bells

OK, another moving story. For as long as I could remember, Ron had a long metal pole with a heap of metal bells on it in his closet. I never asked. I picked my battles. Every once in a while I’d move the stupid thing to get to something else. But I was good. I never suggested he get rid of it. I wasn’t even sure how it worked, anyway. I figured he had a sentimental attachment to it. He never played the bells. On moving day, during his final moments in his bedroom, as he was throwing things on the truck half-packed, Ron waved this heap of bells in my direction and with great annoyance demanded, “Can we throw this thing out? How long are you going to keep it? And what the hell is it, anyway?” I stopped dead in my tracks. “That’s not mine,” I told him, “I have no idea where it came from or what it is. I thought it was yours. It’s in your closet.” Apparently he thought I had put it in his closet. Must have been hell’s bells.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lemonade and Cookies

So we invited the neighbors over for lemonade and cookies on Sunday afternoon. There are about a dozen houses on the circle where our new house is located. I left an invitation in every box. I made Crystal Light sugar-free lemonade. Ron thought that was a really bad idea. I pointed out that most of our neighbors are retired (probably on a diet) and would appreciate sugar-free lemonade. “Yeah,” he said, “but you’re serving it with cookies loaded with butter and sugar.” Oh well. Ron says I should have invited the neighbors for “Fresca and cookies” so they’d have some idea of what they were getting into. I imagine them down the road telling others “Ron and Amy are lovely people, but if they ever invite you over for lemonade, just say ‘no’.” As it turned out, the entire event was surprising. Our neighbors have not met each other! People who have lived on this little circle for over 20 years were introducing themselves to one another. Afterward, Ron and I could not get over this. What happens in the suburbs? People don’t communicate? They all thanked us profusely for bringing everyone together. Now I feel like I moved to the Twilight Zone.